Friday, October 29, 2010

A Different Kind of Eyeglasses


For many people past the age of 40, focusing on close objects—restaurant menus, for instance—just gets harder and harder.

Most people with this condition, called presbyopia, eventually give in and get reading glasses, bifocals or glasses with progressive lenses.

But what if there were another alternative that didn't require people to carry an extra set of glasses or have only part of their field of vision in focus at any one time?

Zoom Focus Eyewear LLC, of Van Nuys, Calif., has just such an option, and with it won this year's Silver Innovation Award. The solution: eyeglasses, called TruFocals, that the wearer can manually adjust to give clear, undistorted vision whether reading a book, working on a computer or looking into the distance.

The judges praised the potential large-scale benefit of TruFocals. Richard S. Lang, one of the judges and a physician at the Cleveland Clinic, called the technology a paradigm shift in the way it addresses a problem "that has been handled the same way for many years."
Mimicking the Eye

For more than 100 years, researchers have tried to come up with adjustable eyeglasses; a Baltimore inventor filed a patent on the idea in 1866. But a workable product that's easy to adjust, thin, lightweight and accurate proved elusive.

For the Wall Street Journal's 10th annual Tech Innovation Awards, Taiwan's Industrial Technology Research Institute received the Gold award for its technology to make paper-thin computer screens with a twist. The company beat out nearly 600 entries for its top ranking, along with Silver-award-winner Zoom Focus and Bronze-winner Counsyl of Silicon Valley.

Stephen Kurtin, a California inventor who previously devised one of the first word-processing programs, turned to the problem in the early 1990s. His solution, TruFocal eyeglasses, mimic the way that the lens of the human eye stretches and contracts to adjust focus.

Each TruFocal lens is actually a set of two lenses: an outer lens, and an inner lens made of a flat glass plate attached to a flexible membrane that contains a clear, silicone-based liquid. A manual slider on the bridge of the eyeglasses adjusts the focus by changing the shape of the membrane. The outer lens can be custom made to correct other vision problems besides presbyopia, including nearsightedness and astigmatism.

Once the TruFocal lenses are adjusted, the entire field of vision is in focus, unlike bifocals and progressive lenses, which keep only a limited area in sharp focus. So a user can adjust the glasses to focus only on the book he's reading, then look up and readjust them to focus solely on the TV across the room.
One Shape, Several Colors

There were some false starts along the way. Mr. Kurtin considered using liquid-crystal electronics to adjust the focus, but the batteries proved problematic. The first model weighed seven pounds. But after nearly 20 years of refinements, the first TruFocal glasses were introduced in 2009.

There's a downside for the fashion conscious: The glasses come in one shape—round—and have been compared to the spectacles worn by Harry Potter. (They are sold in several colors, though.) The circular lenses are necessary to the workings of the technology; with any other shape, the flexible membrane couldn't keep a spherical shape when compressed.

TruFocals aren't the only glasses with adjustable lenses. But other products are mainly designed for users in the developing world, where optometrists aren't widely available; they are meant to be adjusted once by the user to correct the focus at a given distance and then set that way. The Zoom Focus product is aimed at wearers who want to make constant adjustments in their vision.

Next month, TruFocals will be rebranded as Superfocus glasses. The company will also change its name, to Superfocus LLC.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Targeting tumors without the pain of radiation

Israeli scientists have developed an innovative new nano-particle treatment for cancerous tumors that could replace traditional radiation therapy.

Traditional radiation treatment has a range of damaging side effects, but Prof. Israel Gannot believes he can provide an alternative.

Scientists from Israel are developing a new way to destroy cancerous tumors that will have fewer side effects than traditional radiation therapy, and cause minimal damage to surrounding tissue.

The innovative method developed by a professor at Tel Aviv University uses heat to kill the tumor cells, while leaving the surrounding healthy tissue intact.

Today, radiation therapy is one of the most important weapons against cancerous tumors, but the therapy can have a significant impact on the health of a patient as it harms healthy tissue as well as malignant cells.

Patients often experience anything from nausea to hair loss, fatigue, skin irritation, and a lowered white blood cell count.

Prof. Israel Gannot, whose method is soon to be published in the journal Nanomedicine, uses a special mixture of nano-particles - already approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) - and antibodies to locate individual tumors and bind directly to them.

A targeted rise in temperature

The specialized cocktail is administered safely and simply, through topical local injection or injection into the blood stream.

"Once the nano-particles bind to the tumor, we excite them with an external magnetic field, and they begin to heat very specifically and locally," Gannot explains. The magnetic field is manipulated to create a targeted rise in temperature, and it is this directed heat elevation that kills the tumors, he says.

Once the treatment is completed, the nano-particles are washed out of the body naturally without leaving a trace, minimizing side effects.

So far, the treatment has been proven effective against epithelial cancers, which can develop in almost any area of the body, such as the breast or lung. By using a special feedback process, also developed in his laboratory, the process can be optimized for individual treatment.

Gannot claims the method is effective against almost any type of tumor, as long as its specific markers and its antibodies can be identified.

Recuperation at home

Aside from being minimally invasive, Gannot says that the treatment is also fast and efficient. The entire treatment lasts only six hours, and can be administered during an out-patient procedure, enabling patients to recuperate in the comfort of their own homes.

It's early days yet, however. Gannot is currently applying his technique to cell lines and to ex vivo tissues and tissue-like substitutes in his lab, and plans to start in vivo experiments by next year.

If long-term clinical trials are successful, however, Gannot believes the technique could become a mainstay of patient care.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

In Israel, Growing Tobacco to Save Lives

By John Bernard

In a greenhouse in northern Israel, a company is growing tobacco plants yielding a surprising product that is vastly different from cigarettes. These plants produce genetically-engineered human collagen, a protein vital for tissue repair that is used by surgeons to fill bone voids in cancer patients, fix heart valves and heal severe wounds.

The genetic engineering technology that allows the tobacco plants to generate the collagen was developed by CollPlant based in Rehovot in central Israel. This novel use of the tobacco plant answers a major unmet medical need.

A scientific achievement with commercial potential

“Collagen is used in about a thousand important medical products, but until now manufacturers have had to derive it from pigs, cows or human corpses,” says CollPlant CEO Yehiel Tal, noting that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and other international health regulatory agencies have expressed serious safety concerns with respect to the use of both animal and human corpse tissues.

CollPlant’s plant-derived collagen poses no safety risks and can be considered a green technology, eliminating the industrial waste and ecological damage associated with the raising of livestock. In addition, the company is providing tobacco farmers with a healthier and more lucrative use for their crops.

“The leaves of a single tobacco plant can yield about 100 grams of tobacco (for cigarettes) or about a gram of genetically-engineered human collagen,” says Prof. Oded Shoseyov, CollPlant’s co-founder and the inventor of the technology. “And from a single gram of collagen it is possible to produce, for example, about three injections of highly-valuable wound healing gel for patients suffering from diabetic ulcers.”

In developing CollPlant’s innovative technology, Shoseyov had to overcome a formidable scientific challenge. “Most proteins in the body are the result of a single gene but there are five different genes responsible for the production of collagen.”

Shoseyov’s success in transferring all five genes into a transgenic plant that could produce collagen was acknowledged earlier this year when he was awarded the prestigious Hebrew University Kaye Innovation Award for “scientific excellence with commercial potential.”

Good news from the FDA

CollPlant is well on the way to leveraging the commercial potential of Shoseyov’s invention. The company has begun to market collagen as a raw material to Japanese manufacturers and in August received good news from the FDA about its first product.
“The FDA informed us that they have agreed to classify our Vergenix wound dressing as a medical device, rather than as a drug or biologic product,” says Tal. “This is a breakthrough because the medical device regulatory review process is much simpler and quicker than that used for products defined as drugs or biologics.”

Vergenix is just the first of several regenerative tissue products in the CollPlant pipeline that target the multi-billion dollar wound management market. These products include gel formulations for deep-tunneled wounds associated with diabetic ulcers, as well as wound dressings for acute and chronic wounds.

Other CollPlant products will attempt to meet the growing demand for collagen-based orthopedic products. In the US alone, each year there are about 800,000 ligament and tendon repair procedures, 400,000 shoulder operations and more than 500,000 bone graft procedures, all of which require collagen.

CollPlant has received strong support from leading investors since its inception. Investment funds headed by two prominent healthcare industrialists, former Teva Pharmaceuticals CEO Eli Hurvitz and Perrigo founder Mory Arkin, were among the founding investors. Earlier this year the company began to trade publicly on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Invasive shrub increases risk of human disease

There are many ways of fighting disease, but Brian Allan from Washington University has suggested a most unusual one – a spot of weeding. Allan’s research shows that getting rid of a plant called the Amur honeysuckle might be one of the best ways of controlling an emerging human disease called ehrlichiosis. The plant, however, doesn’t cause the disease. The connection between the two is far more complicated than that.

The Amur honeysuckle is an Asian plant that’s naturally alien to American shores. But, like many species that are brought to new habitats, it has become an invader. It forms thick growths that deprive native plants of light, causing local diversity to plummet in the face of an expanding blanket of honeysuckle. This story has been repeated all over the world with different species cast as invasive villains, and different communities cast as suffering victims. But the true consequences of these invasions often go unnoticed.

The honeysuckle doesn’t just crowd out local plants; Allan has found that it also attracts white-tailed deer. Where the deer go, so do their parasites, and these include the lone star tick, the animal that spreads ehrlichiosis. Through their blood-sucking bites, the ticks spread five species of bacteria that infect and kill white blood cells. This weakens the immune systems of their hosts and causing the flu-like symptoms that accompany a bout of ehrlichiosis.

More honeysuckle means more deer, which means more ticks, which means more bacteria, which means more potentially infected humans. This invasive shrub might help to explain why cases of ehrlichiosis have gone up by around 6 times in the early part of the 21st century. In 1999, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recorded just 100 or so cases of ehrlichiosis in the United States. By 2006, that number had risen to just under 600.

Allan discovered this remarkable chain of events by carrying out a series of field surveys in the Missouri woodlands. He found that compared to honeysuckle-free areas, invaded zones had 18 times as much plant matter and around five times as many deer (which presumably are drawn to areas with more shelter and potential food). As a result, they also had 10 times as many ticks that were infected by ehrlichiosis-causing bacteria. Clearly, the risk of catching the disease is higher in areas that contain honeysuckle.

To test his hypothesis, Allan removed the honeysuckle from selected patches of woodland. The result: far fewer signs of deer and far fewer infected ticks. Allan also found that the presence of honeysuckle didn’t affect the odds of a tick being infected with the problematic bacteria, or their odds of survival. This suggests that the removal of the honeysuckle was indeed lowering the numbers of ticks by driving away the deer, rather than simply creating conditions that are more hostile towards ticks.

This is a good example of an invasive species increasing the burden of human disease and it’s unlikely to be the only one. Other studies have found that in the northeastern United States, the honeysuckle and the Japanese barberry (another invasive shrub) might increase the risk of Lyme disease, another tick-borne bacterial disease.

To Allan, these domino effects mean that removing invasive species isn’t just an environmental cause – it’s a public health issue too. Honeysuckle might repress local plants but through a convoluted chain of events, it could end up repressing the immune systems of local people. That should provide even more incentive to deal with these invaders. As Allan himself writes,

“Our finding that removal of the invader mitigates disease risk, coupled with the benefits of invasive plant removal to wildlife communities, suggests a potential “win-win” scenario for biodiversity conservation and human health.”

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

High-speed filter uses electrified nanostructures to purify water at low cost

August 31, 2010 By Louis Bergeron High-speed filter uses electrified nanostructures to purify water at low cost

This scanning electron microscope image shows the silver nanowires in which the cotton is dipped during the process of constructing a filter. The large fibers are cotton. Credit: Courtesy of Yi Cui, Stanford University

( -- By dipping plain cotton cloth in a high-tech broth full of silver nanowires and carbon nanotubes, Stanford researchers have developed a new high-speed, low-cost filter that could easily be implemented to purify water in the developing world.

Instead of physically trapping bacteria as most existing filters do, the new filter lets them flow on through with the water. But by the time the pathogens have passed through, they have also passed on, because the device kills them with an electrical field that runs through the highly conductive "nano-coated" cotton.

In lab tests, over 98 percent of Escherichia coli bacteria that were exposed to 20 volts of electricity in the filter for several seconds were killed. Multiple layers of fabric were used to make the filter 2.5 inches thick.

"This really provides a new water treatment method to kill pathogens," said Yi Cui, an associate professor of materials science and engineering. "It can easily be used in remote areas where people don't have access to chemical treatments such as chlorine."

Cholera, typhoid and hepatitis are among the waterborne diseases that are a continuing problem in the developing world. Cui said the new filter could be used in water purification systems from cities to small villages.

Faster filtering by letting bacteria through

Filters that physically trap bacteria must have pore spaces small enough to keep the pathogens from slipping through, but that restricts the filters' flow rate.

Since the new filter doesn't trap bacteria, it can have much larger pores, allowing water to speed through at a more rapid rate.

"Our filter is about 80,000 times faster than filters that trap bacteria," Cui said. He is the senior author of a paper describing the research that will be published in an upcoming issue of Nano Letters. The paper is available online now.

The larger pore spaces in Cui's filter also keep it from getting clogged, which is a problem with filters that physically pull bacteria out of the water.

Cui's research group teamed with that of Sarah Heilshorn, an assistant professor of materials science and engineering, whose group brought its bioengineering expertise to bear on designing the filters.

Silver has long been known to have chemical properties that kill bacteria. "In the days before pasteurization and refrigeration, people would sometimes drop silver dollars into milk bottles to combat bacteria, or even swallow it," Heilshorn said.

Cui's group knew from previous projects that carbon nanotubes were good electrical conductors, so the researchers reasoned the two materials in concert would be effective against bacteria. "This approach really takes silver out of the folk remedy realm and into a high-tech setting, where it is much more effective," Heilshorn said.

Using the commonplace keeps costs down

But the scientists also wanted to design the filters to be as inexpensive as possible. The amount of silver used for the nanowires was so small the cost was negligible, Cui said. Still, they needed a foundation material that was "cheap, widely available and chemically and mechanically robust." So they went with ordinary woven cotton fabric.

"We got it at Wal-mart," Cui said.

To turn their discount store cotton into a filter, they dipped it into a solution of carbon nanotubes, let it dry, then dipped it into the silver nanowire solution. They also tried mixing both nanomaterials together and doing a single dunk, which also worked. They let the cotton soak for at least a few minutes, sometimes up to 20, but that was all it took.

The big advantage of the nanomaterials is that their small size makes it easier for them to stick to the cotton, Cui said. The nanowires range from 40 to 100 billionths of a meter in diameter and up to 10 millionths of a meter in length. The nanotubes were only a few millionths of a meter long and as narrow as a single billionth of a meter. Because the nanomaterials stick so well, the nanotubes create a smooth, continuous surface on the cotton fibers. The longer nanowires generally have one end attached with the nanotubes and the other end branching off, poking into the void space between cotton fibers.

"With a continuous structure along the length, you can move the electrons very efficiently and really make the filter very conducting," he said. "That means the filter requires less voltage."

Minimal electricity required

The electrical current that helps do the killing is only a few milliamperes strong - barely enough to cause a tingling sensation in a person and easily supplied by a small solar panel or a couple 12-volt car batteries. The electrical current can also be generated from a stationary bicycle or by a hand-cranked device.

The low electricity requirement of the new filter is another advantage over those that physically filter bacteria, which use electric pumps to force water through their tiny pores. Those pumps take a lot of electricity to operate, Cui said.

In some of the lab tests of the nano-filter, the electricity needed to run current through the filter was only a fifth of what a filtration pump would have needed to filter a comparable amount of water.

The pores in the nano-filter are large enough that no pumping is needed - the force of gravity is enough to send the water speeding through.

Although the new filter is designed to let bacteria pass through, an added advantage of using the silver nanowire is that if any bacteria were to linger, the silver would likely kill it. This avoids biofouling, in which bacteria form a film on a filter. Biofouling is a common problem in filters that use small pores to filter out bacteria.

Cui said the electricity passing through the conducting filter may also be altering the pH of the water near the filter surface, which could add to its lethality toward the bacteria.

Cui said the next steps in the research are to try the filter on different types of bacteria and to run tests using several successive filters.

"With one filter, we can kill 98 percent of the bacteria," Cui said. "For drinking water, you don't want any live bacteria in the water, so we will have to use multiple filter stages."

Cui's research group has gained attention recently for using nanomaterials to build batteries from paper and cloth.

More information: Research paper on Nano Letters website - http://pubs.acs.or … 21/nl101944e

Provided by Stanford University

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Reusable Grocery Bags Can Make You Sick

Once again the cure is as bad as the illness. It seems as if going green can really cause someone to turn green. Those reusable grocery bags can make you sick.

Remember the good old days, when you went to the grocery store and brought food home in brown paper bags. Those bags were great, they had so many uses once you brought them home, everything from "trick or treating," to trash bags. Heck, they even inspired a popular comedian "The Unknown Comic"

Throughout my school years every text book I had was named Walbaums, because they were protected by brown paper bags from my mom's favorite Supermarket.

But those bags used paper and the environmentalists wanted to save the rain forests so they switched to those thin plastic bags. The plastic could still be used for Halloween, and are perfect for your wet bathing suits when coming home from the beach. But plastic uses petroleum and take centuries to decompose so the environmentalists didn't like them either. To be honest neither do I, they aren't really strong enough to hold the groceries without tearing.

Enter the reusable grocery bags, they are good for groceries and Halloween, but you can't use them for book covers. It doesn't kill trees and will slow the build-up of plastic in the land fills. The only real problem with them is they are great incubators of E.coli, and salmonella

Tests on shoppers' bags revealed half contained traces of E.coli, a lethal toxin which killed 26 people in Scotland in 1996 in one of the worlds worst food poisoning outbreaks.

Scientists also found many were contaminated with salmonella.

Researchers blame the fact that consumers do not realise reusable bags need to be washed regularly at high temperatures to kill off bugs deposited by raw meat packaging.

They warned the levels of bacteria they found were high enough to cause a wide range of serious health problems and even death.

Think of it this way, the environmentalists may save the rain forests, and clean up land fills, with the unintended consequence of killing children, as kids are particularly vulnerable to the effects of organisms such as E.coli.

The tests were carried out by experts at the University of Arizona, who stopped a total of 84 shoppers in Tucson, Los Angeles and San Francisco to check the state of their bags.

The popularity of reusable eco-friendly shopping bags has soared in Britain, as in the US, as the growth in the recycling culture means fewer consumers rely on disposable plastic bags.

Many of the new bags are made from jute or woven polypropylene.

But while they are better for the environment, the new research suggests they could be harmful to health if not cleaned regularly.

Oh and the hotter the climate, the worse the contamination so imagine what will happen if Al Gore is telling the truth (about climate change, not that massage in the hotel)

Professor Charles Gerba, who led the study said: "Our findings suggest a serious threat to public health, especially from bacteria such as E.coli, which were detected in half of the bags sampled.

"Consumers are alarmingly unaware of these risks and the critical need to sanitise their bags on a weekly basis."

A poll revealed 97 per cent of shoppers who used eco-friendly bags never washed or bleached them.

Here's an idea, throw out the reusable bags and the plastic and lets go back to the best option of all, paper bags. Think of all the trees and plastic we won't be using for book covers.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Two Drugs Appear to Surpass Landmark Novartis Leukemia Treatment


CHICAGO—Novartis AG's Gleevec is one of the closest things to a miracle drug to come out of the battle against cancer in recent years. But new research suggests two newer drugs are even more effective for the form of leukemia whose treatment Gleevec has transformed.

In separate studies published Saturday, Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.'s Sprycel and Novartis's Tasigna each were superior to Gleevec in treating people with newly diagnosed chronic myeloid leukemia. The two newer drugs are currently approved to treat patients whose disease persisted after trying Gleevec.

The new studies could help widen the patient populations for both Sprycel and Tasigna if doctors begin choosing them over Gleevec for newly diagnosed patients.

Switzerland-based Novartis has already applied for regulatory approval to market Tasigna as a first-line treatment, and New York-based Bristol said it is in the process of doing so for Sprycel. Some doctors may not wait for formal regulatory approval to try the newer drugs as first-line treatments.

But some doctors might still stick with Gleevec until Tasigna and Sprycel can demonstrate a long-term survival advantage over Gleevec. Also, Gleevec could be viewed as a more cost-effective option when the drug loses patent protection and cheaper generic versions become available in coming years.

"We don't know yet about long-term survival," said Sonali Smith, oncologist at the University of Chicago Medical Center. "We probably won't have that data for quite some time."

Gleevec was introduced in 2001 and quickly became the standard of care for people newly diagnosed with CML, a cancer of the blood, based on its ability to induce remission and significantly improve survival versus older drugs, with relatively low toxic effects.

Studies have shown at least 80% of Gleevec users were still alive eight to 10 years after beginning therapy, much higher than the historical survival rate of less than 20% for CML patients before Gleevec. Gleevec had world-wide sales of $3.9 billion last year.

But not all patients improve on Gleevec, and newer drugs were initially aimed at helping these patients. Sprycel was introduced in 2006 and had 2009 sales of $421 million. Tasigna, which came out in 2007, had 2009 sales of $212 million.

Both Sprycel and Tasigna are more potent in going after a certain molecular target than Gleevec, so researchers studied whether they would work better than Gleevec in the first-line setting. Results were released at the annual scientific meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology and published simultaneously by the New England Journal of Medicine on Saturday.

In the Bristol-funded Sprycel study of 519 newly diagnosed CML patients, some 77% of Sprycel users had "complete cytogenetic" responses after 12 months of follow-up, versus 66% in the Gleevec users. This is one measure of remission, when the disease is virtually undetectable in bone marrow.

In a separate, 846-patient study supported by Novartis, some 80% of Tasigna users had complete cytogenetic responses, versus 65% of Gleevec users.

Both studies, while not designed identically, also looked at another measure of remission, known as major molecular response. This was achieved in about 44% of Tasigna users after 12 months, versus 22% for Gleevec. In comparison, the corresponding rates in the Bristol study were 46% for Sprycel and 28% for Gleevec.

Novartis also released data showing Tasigna continued to be superior to Gleevec after 18 months of follow-up.

Hagop Kantarjian, an oncologist at University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston who served as an investigator in both trials, said Sprycel and Tasigna were superior to Gleevec at inducing remissions, but some doctors may want to wait for three- to five-year follow-up data before substituting these drugs for Gleevec.

There were various side-effects associated with each drug in the studies, such as skin problems and headaches for Tasigna and accumulation of fluid in the chest for Sprycel. But Charles Sawyers, a cancer specialist at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, wrote in an editorial in the NEJM that all three drugs have "outstanding safety profiles."

Dr. Sawyers raised the question of whether the new data would render Gleevec "forever enshrined in the history of oncology but no longer useful." But he said Gleevec may get new life when it goes generic: "With rising pressure to balance cost and efficacy, patients and payers may be forced to select the cheapest among three excellent treatment options."

Novartis has patent protection for Gleevec in the U.S. until 2015.

Dr. Kantarjian said Sprycel and Tasigna would have to show significant improvement in survival to justify their prices versus generic Gleevec in first-line CML.

Pfizer Inc. is developing a similar CML drug, bosutinib, that would compete against the others if it reaches the market.

Friday, May 28, 2010

This is wonderful!

8-month-old deaf toddler Jonathan reacts to the activation of his cochlear implant.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Snakebites About to Get a Lot More Deadly

The cure for North American coral snake bite is about to disappear. Why an unprofitable anti-venom may end up costing lives.
By Glenn Derene

As venomous snakes go, the coral snake is a clumsy biter. Unlike pit vipers such as rattlesnakes and cottonmouths, which have gruesomely efficient fangs that articulate forward during a strike and inject venom like hypodermic needles, the brightly colored coral snake has small, rear-facing fangs that guide venom into a wound. This process doesn't always work well--experts estimate that 25 percent of coral snake envenomations are dry bites--which is perhaps why the coral is so unaggressive. The snake is found throughout Florida, as well as in parts of Alabama, South Carolina, Louisiana, Texas and Arizona, but there are generally only about 100 or so bites each year.

What the coral lacks in belligerence, it makes up for in neurotoxicity. Unlike bites from pit vipers, which cause immense pain and swelling at the wound site, coral snake victims usually report little pain after being bitten. But the effects begin to show within hours, with symptoms such as tingling sensations in the extremities, dysarthria (slurred speech) and ptosis (droopy eyelids). Then a victim's lungs shut down. "The venom acts as a neuromuscular blockade to the lungs," University of Florida professor of medicine Craig Kitchens says. "Without antivenom, you need artificial respiration or you die."

Unfortunately, after Oct. 31 of this year, there may be no commercially available antivenom (antivenin) left. That's the expiration date on existing vials of Micrurus fulvius, the only antivenom approved by the Food and Drug Administration for coral snake bites. Produced by Wyeth, now owned by Pfizer, the antivenom was approved for sale in 1967, in a time of less stringent regulation.

Wyeth kept up production of coral snake antivenom for almost 40 years. But given the rarity of coral snake bites, it was hardly a profit center, and the company shut down the factory that made the antivenom in 2003. Wyeth worked with the FDA to produce a five-year supply of the medicine to provide a stopgap while other options were pursued. After that period, the FDA extended the expiration date on existing stock from 2008 to 2009, and then again from 2009 to 2010. But as of press time, no new manufacturer has stepped forward.

Antivenom shortages are a surprisingly common occurrence. The entire state of Arizona ran out of antivenom for scorpion stings after Marilyn Bloom, an envenomation specialist at Arizona State University, retired in 1999. Bloom had been single-handedly making all the scorpion antivenom for state hospitals. Recently, Merck & Co, the only FDA-licensed producer of black widow antivenom, has cut back distribution because of a production shortage of the drug. In a 2007 report, the World Health Organization listed worldwide envenomations as a "neglected public health issue."

New scorpion and black widow antivenoms are currently in the pipeline, thanks to efforts by several poison-control associations to speed foreign drugs into the market through FDA research programs. There is also a coral snake antivenom produced by Mexican drug manufacturer Instituto Bioclon that researchers believe could be even more effective and safe than the outgoing Wyeth product. But that drug, Coralmyn, is not currently licensed for sale by the FDA. The tests required for licensing would cost millions of dollars, and for such a rare treatment (there are 15 times as many scorpion stings per year as coral snake bites), it could take decades for Bioclon to make its money back.

Envenomation experts express exasperation and disbelief at the situation. "It's ridiculous that we're losing a technology that we already have," says Joe Pittman, a snakebite treatment specialist at the Florida Poison Information Center in Tampa. "It's even more ludicrous that we have a product that's available, and we have to jump through so many hoops to get it approved." In July 2009, an FDA advisory board determined that Coralmyn qualified for an accelerated approval process, but there is still no one with the estimated $3 million to $5 million to pay for the required studies.

"Nobody in this situation is being a bad actor," says Eric Lavonas of the Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center. "We just don't have a system set up to deal with it." With no adequate replacement for coral snake antivenom, hospitals are likely to appeal to local zoos, many of which maintain small stocks for their staff. But zoos are under no obligation to provide the medicine.

If and when shortages do occur, many hospitals will have no other option but to intubate coral snake bite victims on ventilators for weeks until the effects of the toxin wear off--potentially costing hundreds of thousands of dollars per bite. "It's probably going to end up costing us far more not to deal with this than to deal with it," Lavonas says, "both in human suffering, and in dollars and cents."

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Parkinson's patient's cycling ability stuns doctors

Monday, Apr. 05 2010
Dr. Bastiaan R. Bloem of the Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Center in the
Netherlands thought he had seen it all in his years of caring for patients with
Parkinson's disease. But the 58-year-old man who came to see him recently was a
total surprise.

The man had had Parkinson's disease for 10 years, and it had progressed until
he was severely affected. Parkinson's, a neurological disorder in which some of
the brain cells that control movement die, had made him unable to walk. He
trembled and could walk only a few steps before falling. He froze in place, his
feet feeling as if they were bolted to the floor.

But the man told Bloem something amazing: He said he was a regular exerciser —
a cyclist, in fact — something that should not be possible for patients at his
stage of the disease, Bloem thought.

"He said, 'Just yesterday I rode my bicycle for 10 kilometers' — six miles,"
Bloem said. "He said he rides his bicycle for miles and miles every day.

"I said, 'This cannot be,'" Bloem, a professor of neurology and medical
director of the hospital's Parkinson's Center, recalled in a telephone
interview. "This man has end-stage Parkinson's disease. He is unable to walk."

But the man was eager to demonstrate, so Bloem took him outside where a nurse's
bike was parked.

"We helped him mount the bike, gave him a little push, and he was gone," Bloem
said. He rode, even making a U-turn, and was in perfect control, all his
Parkinson's symptoms gone.

Yet the moment the man got off the bike, his symptoms returned. He froze
immediately, unable to take a step.

Bloem made a video and photos of the man trying to walk and then riding his
bike. The photos appear in the April 1 issue of The New England Journal of

After seeing that man, Bloem asked 20 other severely affected patients about
riding a bike. It turned out that all could do it, though it is not clear why.

Bloem and other Parkinson's specialists were amazed. People with Parkinson's
disease can often dance, run, walk smoothly and do complex movements for a few
minutes if they are given appropriate signals — emotional or visual cues. There
are famous examples, such as a group of Parkinson's patients who were caught in
a fire and managed to run down steps and escape, only to freeze in place when
they got outside.

But this effect, known as the kinesia paradox, does not last long. Riding for
miles and miles is very different from walking for a few minutes. And until
now, Bloem said, it was not known that patients with Parkinson's could ride

He said bicycling offers patients an opportunity to be symptom-free while they
are riding, to look and feel normal, and to get some real cardiovascular

Bloem said he hoped that perhaps regular exercise might slow the progress of
Parkinson's disease. It does in rats, he said.

Friday, April 2, 2010

A finch's decoded genome might help us with speech

By Kim McGuire

When we hear a song for the first time, it often seems like it goes in one ear and out the other, sometimes only few catchy words from a chorus leaving much of an impression.
bullet Hear the sounds of the zebra finch

But when the Australian zebra finch hears its father sing for the first time, those simple melodies activate large, complex gene networks in the bird’s brain, according to new research by an international team of scientists that includes researchers from Washington University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The findings, published today in the journal Nature, reveal how the team successfully decoded the genome of the zebra finch, only the second bird to have its genetic code completely mapped.

The project provides new insights that will help scientists understand how humans learn language and may someday provide insights into diseases like autism that can inhibit speech, team members say.

"Now we can look deep into the genome, not just at the genes involved in vocal learning, but that the complex ways in which they are regulated," said Richard K. Wilson, the research’s senior author and director of Washington University’s Genome Center. "This information provides clues to how vocal learning occurs at the most basic molecular level in birds and people."

Past research has shown that hundreds of genes light up in the finch’s brain as the bird learns a new song.

The new research show that significantly more genes — about 800 total — are activated by the act of singing.

The team selected the zebra finch for study because songbirds are among few animals that learn how to sing — just like humans. As young birds, the finch "babbles" but eventually learns how to imitate its father.

In contrast, a chicken, the other bird to have its genome sequenced, instinctively knows how cluck. It is not a form of communication learned from other birds.

"There is a functional development parallel between the way a bird learns to sing and a human learns to speak," said David Clayton, a neuroscience professor at the University of Illinois and leader of the group that proposed the genome sequencing project. "The avian brain is quite different in a superficial detail from the mammalian brain or the human brain, but some striking parallels have emerged."

Wes Warren, lead author and genetics professor at Washington University, explained that the zebra finch proved to be the model study organism because they learn to sing in a predictable way over a relatively short span of time and many of their genes are conserved in humans.

Now, scientists can conduct future studies to identify a core set of genes in the finch’s brain and see if any of these are disrupted in people with speech disorders caused stuttering, or stroke and by diseases like autism and Parkinson’s, Warren said.

"It’s just amazing to know that when the finch hears a song, there’s always a gene that corresponds in the brain," he said. "Clearly, that’s going to be even more complex in humans."

Warren said as more animals have their genes sequenced, scientists will be able to draw more comparisons that might yield insight into human development.

Next up for some of the Washington University scientists who participated in the finch project is the sequencing of the parrot genome, which is slated for completion sometime later this year.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Sex-Crazed Bugs Unleashed in Israel

One of the great challenges of modern agriculture is how to use technology to mass produce crops while sparing consumers from the harmful chemicals and byproducts of the agricultural process. Though meant to kill harmful insects, pesticides carry a very serious risk to the environment.

While studies have shown that mankind is developing cancer and other diseases at a higher rate due to exposure to pesticides, the crop-killing vermin are only becoming more immune to its effects. At the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, researchers have discovered a way to safely eliminate insects without the need for harmful chemicals.

Professor Boaz Yuval at the university’s Robert H. Smith Faculty of Food, Agriculture and the Environment believes that sex is the key.

If you can sterilize male insects before they copulate with females, these females will be unable to lay eggs. The problem, however, is that males who are sterilized also lose their sex drive, leaving the females to mate with male insects who are not sterilized.

Researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have created a special, high protein, bacteria-enhanced “breakfast of champions” to sterilize males. By greatly increasing their sex drive and sexual performance, females spend all of their time with these Casanova sex-crazed males and never are able to lay eggs of their own.

While original applications of this research will be for plant and animal pests, many are looking to see how this work can be applied to stop the spread of organisms carrying human diseases.

Eye Spy Israeli Nanotechnology

The Wall Street Journal’s MarketWatch website reports that Nano Retina, based in Herzliya, has developed a system of retinal implants to help people suffering from macular degeneration, complications of diabetes, and other diseases that affect vision.

Without getting all technical, the Bio-Retina would be implanted into the eye and actually glued over one’s natural but damaged retina. As light enters the eye, the Bio-Retina converts it into tiny electrical impulses and sends them off to the brain, essentially functioning just as a normal, healthy retina would. Best part? The procedure takes about half an hour. Heck, that’s faster than most dentist visits.

Unsurprisingly, Nano Retina’s innovative chief executive Ra’anan Gefen comes from a background of technology development in Israel’s military. Nano Retina isn’t a one-man show, though. The company is a joint venture of Rainbow Medical, also of Herzliya, and Zyvex Labs of Texas. (And, to be fair, we should mention that U.S.-based Second Sight Medical Products is also working on its own solution.)

Will bionic eyes become standard fare? Will macular degeneration become a thing of the past? Will the carrot industry survive? Only time will tell.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Truth About Urine

The Truth About Urine
What do urine color and odor changes mean? How often should you 'go'? Find out.
By Stephanie Watson
WebMD FeatureReviewed by Louise Chang, MD
March 11, 2010

Urine isn't something most people talk about. We barely give it more than a passing glance as it swirls out of sight down the toilet bowl. Yet changes in the urine – its color, odor, and consistency – can provide important clues about the status of your body. Your urine can reveal what you've been eating, how much you've been drinking, and what diseases you have.

"Urine and urinalysis have, for hundreds of years, been one of the ways physicians have looked at health," says Tomas Griebling, MD, MPH, vice chair of the urology department at the University of Kansas.

"From a historical view, urinalysis was one of the original windows into what's happening in the body," Griebling says. That's because many of the substances circulating in your body, including bacteria, yeast, excess protein and sugar, eventually make their way into the urine.

Urine is an important part of the body's disposal process. Its job is to remove the extra water and water-soluble wastes the kidneys filter out of the blood. "The urine is there primarily to get rid of toxins or things that would otherwise build up in the body that would be bad for the body," says Anthony Smith, MD, professor and chief of urology at the University of New Mexico.

When you notice that your urine has changed color, or there's a strange odor wafting up from the toilet, the cause might be something as harmless as what you had for dinner (which could have included beets or asparagus). It also might be a sign of a more serious condition, such as an infection or cancer.

Before you flush, here are a few urine changes to look out for, and what they might be saying about your health.

Color Changes
Urine gets its yellow color from a pigment called urochrome. That color normally varies from pale yellow to deep amber, depending on the concentration of the urine. Darker urine is usually a sign that you're not drinking enough fluid. "Your body needs a certain amount of fluid to function, so the body will hold on to fluid and the urine will become very strong and concentrated. When that happens, it will turn a darker color," Griebling says.

The opposite is also true. If your urine is very pale, it means that you're either drinking a lot of fluid, or you're taking a diuretic -- a drug that forces the body to get rid of excess water.

Urine can turn a rainbow of colors, and an unusual hue isn't necessarily cause for alarm. Certain medications can turn the urine fluorescent green or blue, carrots can tint it orange, vitamins can give it a yellow hue, and an inherited disease called porphyria can shade it the color of port wine.

Seeing red is typically a sign that there is blood in the urine, but before you panic, know that a little blood can produce a dramatic color change. "What I always tell patients is it takes one drop of blood to turn a toilet bowl red," Smith says.

That said, just a little blood in the urine can be a sign of something serious, like an infection or cancer, and it warrants a visit to your doctor or urologist. If you're seeing blood and your urine is also cloudy, there's a good chance you've picked up an infection, Smith says.

Odor Changes
Urine normally doesn't have a very strong smell. If you get a whiff of something particularly pungent, you could have an infection or urinary stones, which can create an ammonia-like odor. Diabetics might notice that their urine smells sweet, because of excess sugar. In the past, doctors would actually taste urine for this sweetness to diagnose diabetes.

Some foods can also change urine odor. Asparagus is among the most notorious. What people are smelling when they eat asparagus is the breakdown of a sulfur compound called methyl mercaptan (the same compound found in garlic and skunk secretions). If you catch a whiff of something after eating a plate of asparagus, it means that you've inherited the gene for the enzyme that breaks down mercaptan. Not everyone has this enzyme and, therefore, not everyone can smell it.

How Often Do You Need to Go?
How often you need to go can be as important an indicator of your health as the color or smell of your urine. Most people take bathroom breaks about six to eight times a day, but you might go more or less depending on how much fluid you drink. If you're constantly feeling the urge to go and it's not because you're not drinking extra fluid, causes can include:

Overactive bladder -- involuntary contractions of the bladder muscle
Urinary tract infection
Interstitial cystitis -- a condition that causes the bladder wall to become inflamed and irritated
Benign prostate enlargement -- growth of the prostate that causes it to squeeze the urethra and block the normal flow of urine out of the body
Neurological diseases, including stroke and Parkinson's disease
The opposite problem -- not going to the bathroom enough -- can occur when there is a blockage or infection. Or, it can be the result of bad bathroom habits. Some people -- especially teachers, surgeons, and anyone else who doesn't have time for regular bathroom breaks throughout the day -- tend to hold it in.
Delaying urination can be problematic, says Smith, who compares the bladder to a Slinky: It stretches and then contracts repeatedly, but eventually it can stretch too much to bounce back. "The bladder can develop a chronic overdistension…a chronic emptying problem," he says.

Developing Healthy Bathroom Habits
Take good care of your bladder, and it will thank you by helping you urinate regularly. To avoid having to make too many bathroom visits, stay hydrated, but not overhydrated. Drink whenever you're thirsty, but don't feel as though you have to adhere to the eight-glasses-a-day recommendation (unless you have kidney or bladder stones, in which case you'll need to increase your fluid intake).

If you're getting up during the night to use the bathroom, stop drinking three to four hours before bedtime. Limit caffeine, which can irritate the lining of the bladder. Also watch your intake of alcohol, which can have similar effects.

Finally, don't hold it in. As soon as you feel the urge to go, excuse yourself from whatever you're doing and find a bathroom.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Anti-melanoma drug seems to be miracle cure

Sunday, Feb. 28 2010
For the melanoma patients who signed on to try a drug known as PLX4032, the
clinical trial was a last resort. Their bodies were riddled with tumors,
leaving them almost certainly just months to live.

But a few weeks after taking their first dose, nearly all of them began to

Lee Reyes, 30, of Fresno, Calif., who had begun using a feeding tube because of
a growth pressing against his throat, bit into a cinnamon roll.

Nothing, he told his mother, had ever tasted as good.

Rita Quigley, who had been grateful just to find herself breathing each morning
since learning she had the virulent skin cancer, went shopping for new clothes
with her daughters at a mall in Huntsville, Ala.

Randy Williams, 46, who drove 600 miles from his home in Jonesboro, Ark., to
the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, the nearest place he could get the
experimental drug, rolled out of bed. "Something's working," he thought,
"because nothing's hurting."

It was a sweet moment, in autumn 2008, for Dr. Keith Flaherty, the University
of Pennsylvania oncologist leading the drug's first clinical trial. A new kind
of cancer therapy, it was tailored to a particular genetic mutation that was
driving the disease, and after six years of disappointments, his faith in the
promise of such a "targeted" approach finally seemed borne out. His
collaborators at five other major cancer centers, melanoma clinicians who had
tested dozens of potential therapies for their patients with no success, were
equally elated.

In a kind of "pinch me" exercise, the six doctors sent each other "before and
after" CT scans of their patients.

One was of Mark Bunting, 52, an airline pilot in Sandy, Utah. His initial scan
in early October showed the cancer in his bones, an incursion considered
virtually impossible to reverse. After two months on the drug, it had all but

"Holy Cow!" Flaherty typed in reply to the slide from Dr. Toni Ribas at the
University of California-Los Angeles, that Dec. 17.

"Are you sure it is the same patient??" added Dr. Jeffrey A. Sosman at the
Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center in Nashville.

From New York, Dr. Paul B. Chapman of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center,
perhaps the most determined skeptic of the group, acknowledged, "This looks


The trial of PLX4032 offers a glimpse at how doctors, patients and drug
developers navigate a medical frontier at a time when more drugs tailored to
the genetic profile of a cancer are being widely tested on humans for the first

Throughout the fall, the only two patients on the trial whose tumors continued
to grow were the ones who did not have the particular gene mutation for which
the drug had been designed. They were removed from the trial. By late December,
tumors in the 11 patients who did have the mutation had shrunk. Those involved
in the trial held their collective breath waiting to see how long the
remissions would last.

It was a far cry from where they had been a year earlier, when a previous
incarnation of the drug had no effect. Urged on by Flaherty and Chapman, the
companies that owned it had spent months devising a new formulation that could
be absorbed at higher doses.

But the new drug, still in the earliest phase of testing, had to pass several
more hurdles before federal regulators would determine whether it was safe and
effective enough for widespread use.

In December, as the doctors added more patients to the Phase 1 trial, looking
for the highest dose they could give without intolerable side effects, they
scrambled to prepare slides with graphs and statistics to convince the Food and
Drug Administration that the drug should be tested in a larger Phase 2 trial.
The agency required a summary of any and all side effects — there had been only
a few — and any deaths of patients on the study; thankfully, there had been
none since the drug was reformulated. In a matter of days they needed to submit
their findings for a prestigious meeting of clinical oncologists in June.

The side effects struck at the 1,120-milligram dose.

Many patients had been taking the reformulated drug for five months with no
signs of relapsing. The doctors had hoped that by pushing up the dose they
could shut down the cancer more effectively. Some patients were taking as many
as 28 pills a day.


Kerri Adams, in Oklahoma City, woke up one morning covered in a rash.
Frightened that she would be dropped from the trial, she tried to ignore it.
But at work, her boss was horrified and insisted that she call the doctor.
Another woman's hand swelled up, and she could not make a fist. A Philadelphia
patient had horrible nausea and diarrhea, and Bunting's joints grew so stiff
that he had to hand jars to his wife to remove the lids, even when they had
already been opened.

Maybe the drug, designed to turn off only the defective B-RAF protein, was, at
high doses, also affecting its role in healthy cells. Or perhaps it was
interfering with other proteins the body needed to function properly.

On their next conference call, the doctors agreed that they had to dial back
the dose.

As the side effects began to subside, many of the patients began to believe
they had beaten their cancer.

One evening, Bunting performed what had become his pill-taking ritual as his
wife puttered around the kitchen.

He liked the water to be room temperature, so he heated it in the microwave and
added cold from the tap. He burped, and some powder from the pills came out of
his mouth just as she turned to look.

They both laughed.


When Christopher Nelson strolled into the University of Pennsylvania for a
scheduled day of blood work and monitoring in mid-March, he was greeted as if
he had risen from the dead.

Gazing out the window of the clinic room, he spied a hot dog stand.

"Dirty water dogs," he exclaimed.

"Can you get me one?" he asked his wife's sister. "Actually, two?"

"Chris is feeling better," the nurse told Flaherty casually when she saw him.

"What do you mean?" he pressed.

"Well, he's off pain meds," she said.

Flaherty was not scheduled to see Nelson until three weeks later. But between
appointments that day, the doctor found time to visit his patient. In Nelson's
room, Flaherty broke into a wide smile, a tension he had not realized he was
holding seeping out of him.

He had never seen a melanoma patient who had been that sick improve that much.
He was not sure he had ever seen a melanoma patient that sick who improved at

Sharlene Nelson hugged him. In the weeks that followed, Christopher Nelson
gained 17 pounds. One morning a friend drove him to Atlantic City, where for a
$35 buy-in, they played his favorite game, Texas hold 'em, all day. The drug
had made him sensitive to the sun, and he burned his skin cleaning the pool one
afternoon, even with strong sunblock. Sharlene Nelson bought an umbrella, and
he spent much of the spring sitting underneath it.

"Today's a nice day," he said over the phone to a friend one day in early May.
"There's a cloud, and the sun is behind it."


In mid-May, right before he was to fly to Orlando, Fla., to present the trial's
data, Flaherty received a message on his BlackBerry as he was walking on

The first patient to respond in the trial, Elmer Bucksbaum, had been admitted
to the hospital. The cancer had spread to his brain.

Flaherty stopped walking.

The drug, Flaherty knew, was powerless in the brain. But had the drug held off
the cancer elsewhere in Bucksbaum's body? Or would other patients, too, begin
to relapse?

Bucksbaum died a few days later.

Flaherty called his family and offered his condolences. It had been not quite
eight months.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Protecting Yourself Against Swine Flu in 15 Seconds

Hand sanitizers have become a $200-million-a-year industry in the U.S., and the industry continues to grow. While the fear of contracting swine flu has been a significant engine behind the growth of the industry, most people don’t realize that according to the Center for Disease Control, there is no hand sanitizer proven to kill the swine flu virus.

Until now that is.

Professor Elka Touitou, a world renowned expert in the field of drug delivery, on the Faculty of Medicine at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, has created an antiviral hand sanitizer, which, according to an FDA certified laboratory in the U.S., is highly effective against the H1N1 virus. The innovative product, known as EtoClean (TM), deactivates the swine flu virus in just 15 seconds.

Additionally, EtoClean has also been found to inactivate other viruses that are not effected by regular alcohol-based sanitizers such as hepatitis and norovirus (a common cause of gastroenteritis).

For more information on EtoClean and the company that produces it, click here.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Pathologist warns herbal remedies can be lethal

A forensic pathologist has sounded a worldwide alert about the dangers of herbal medicines, saying "these substances may cause serious illnesses."
What Professor Roger Byard of the University of Adelaide writes in the Journal of Forensic Sciences is in reference to the false assumptions many people have about herbal medicines.
“There’s a false perception that herbal remedies are safer than manufactured medicines, when in fact many contain potentially lethal concentrations of arsenic, mercury and lead,” Professor Byard says.
“These substances may cause serious illnesses, exacerbate pre-existing health problems or result in death, particularly if taken in excess or injected rather than ingested.”
Professor Byard declares there can also be fatal consequences when some herbal medicines interact with prescription drugs. “As access to such products is largely unrestricted and many people do not tell their doctor they are taking herbal medicines for fear of ridicule, their contribution to death may not be fully appreciated during a standard autopsy.”
After examining 251 Asian herbal products that were found in stores in the United States, analysts found a significant level of harmful ingredients that included arsenic in 36 of them, mercury in 35 and lead in 24 of the products.
“Herbal medicines are frequently mixed with standard drugs, presumably to make them more effective. This can also have devastating results,” Professor Byard adds.
Not only can herbal medicines have a deleterious effect on individuals, the interaction of herbal medicines and traditional therapies can have very serious consequences, as Professor Byard explains. He tells his readers how St. Johns Wort can reduce the effects of warfarin and can also cause intermenstrual bleeding in those women who take oral contraceptive medications. Other herbal remedies such as gingko and garlic can increase the risk of bleeding. Borage Oil and Evening Primrose Oil can lower the threshold at which epileptic seizures can occur.
Around 30 percent of people in the United States use herbal medicines as do a high number of people in Canada and the United Kingdom. This is why Professor Byard underlines the significance of a worldwide warning on the use of herbal medicines.
Despite warnings such as these, articles, books and websites continue to proliferate and are devoted to recommending herbal medicines. The emphasis is on the curative value of these remedies, while few mention the problems taking them.
What's interesting is that not only are people able to buy herbal products, often without knowing the potential risks of some of them, plenty of places on the web give instruction on how to make Chinese herbal remedies, some of which, as noted in Byard's research, can cause harm.
The website gives information on how to make herbal medicines with an organized presentation, but without any apparent warnings for readers to review. Instead the warnings are directed towards the user making sure that he or she uses the right remedy for the right medical condition.
There are risks involved when taking herbs for medical purposes, doctors warn. This new research underlines what many doctors have noted for years: when in doubt check with your doctor.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Unrolled, Unbridled and Unabashed

Exhibition Review | 'Rubbers: The Life, History & Struggle of the Condom'
Unrolled, Unbridled and Unabashed

In the 18th century Casanova referred to them as “English frock coats” and made prodigious use of the “little preventive bag invented by the English to save the fair sex from anxiety.” In 1709 the English literary journal The Tatler alluded to their supposed invention by an eponymous doctor of “eminent Quality”; the success of his “Engine” eventually “made it an Immodesty to name his Name.”

But there was never a Dr. Condom as far as we can tell, and no one really knows who first created condoms (or named them), since bladders, animal membranes, sheaths and salve-coated cloths have been used for similar purposes since the beginning of recorded history.

Spend some time at the fascinating new exhibition at the Museum of Sex, “Rubbers: The Life, History & Struggle of the Condom,” and their origins hardly matter: their history is what is extraordinary. These commonplace objects — widely used and rarely spoken of, often seen but infrequently displayed — are icons of far more than the phallus.

The museum’s curator, Sarah Forbes, has gathered condom boxes and vending machines, horrific photos of disease and collections of birth-control devices, American military videos and a dress made out of dyed condoms, television commercials and artworks, creating a modest exhibition that elevates the status of the condom. And, not incidentally, the show explicitly encourages its use — particularly, as one major section reminds us, to prevent the spread of H.I.V. and AIDS.

It is no wonder that the company that makes Trojan condoms became a sponsor of the exhibition, though the extent of its presence here is limited, including a display of contemporary equipment used in making condoms (metallic phallic molds that are dipped into liquid latex, for example) and a video of laboratory tests showing their resiliency. (Condoms are attached to valves and inflated, becoming enormous balloons well before they finally burst.)

The evolution of the condom is too briefly told, but it includes Charles Goodyear’s discovery of a treatment for rubber that retained its flexibility; a photograph of a well-preserved reusable rubber sheath from mid-20th-century London is here. In Germany, we learn, condoms are colloquially referred to as Fromms because that was the name of the Jewish manufacturer who, before the Nazis came to power, sold 50 million condoms a year. (His condoms were also, interestingly, packaged with slips of paper that could be discreetly handed to a pharmacist, ordering another supply.) But Julius Fromm had to flee to London and lost the factory.

It is partly because condoms graphically suggest the sex act that they have so often been known through their covers: a collection of boxes and containers here range from antique exoticism (picturing desert camels) to whimsical contemporaneity (portraits of candidates from the last presidential election). A New York pharmacy case has wooden doors that would have decorously concealed the contents until the customer was prepared to survey the various Sheik condoms for sale. Condoms have also accumulated nicknames that are covers of sorts, hiding their identity while provocatively suggesting it. (A wall displays a roster of aliases, including, most mildly, “copper hat,” “love sock,” “frogskin,” “night cap.”)

Condoms have encouraged sophomoric humor (a historical etching of Casanova shows him blowing into a condom and inflating it for the amused delectation of his lady admirers) and avant-gardish flirtatiousness (as in Randy Polumbo’s artworks on display, which include a ribbed dirigible and a solar-powered flying machine that inflates and deflates attached condoms).

And they have a dark side, which casts its shadow over such play. There are early photographs here of victims of syphilis, including a chilling image of a pox-covered baby nursing at a pox-covered breast.

Like the diseases they prevent, condoms have also proliferated with the march of armies. As the show points out, 18,000 American soldiers a day were on sick leave with venereal diseases during World War I, inspiring the United States government to begin a campaign about the transmission of disease and the distribution of military “pro-kits” to allow cleansing and protection.

The show’s grim accounting of sexually transmitted disease is tempered by an upbeat 2006 news account of a Florida retirement community in which condom use is being encouraged for its residents because of the spread of sexual diseases. The cure and the prevention have become so routine, they scarcely intrude on the pleasures.

But the last half of the exhibition is more preoccupied with controversy: the condom becomes a political instrument in long-running cultural and religious debates. A 1915 edition of Margaret Sanger’s once-controversial book, “What Every Girl Should Know,” is here. (Her birth-control advocacy led to the creation of Planned Parenthood.) So is a 1989 poster of deliberate crudity attacking the pope and the Roman Catholic Church for opposing the use of condoms for birth control and disease prevention.

The onset of H.I.V. and AIDS in the 1980s created another crisis in which advertisements and educational materials invoked death and disease, just as the warnings about sexual diseases did in earlier centuries. One series of commercials shown here, from MTV’s Staying Alive Foundation, depicts passionate sex, ending with the man pulling a gun on his lover: unprotected sex is murder.

But while the earlier response to similar dangers was chastisement (avoid prostitutes; keep a “healthy mind and clean body,” warns a 1941 United States Army film), here the condom offers another possibility: a series of Keith Haring drawings promote both sexual activity and protection, offering satisfaction along with immunity.

This message is literally a promotion of the condom; the condom even becomes a cause. This is one impulse behind the purple couture cocktail dress displayed here, designed by Adriana Bertini: it is constructed from 1,200 hand-dyed condoms. In such a form the condom is not private but public, not hidden but extravagantly and profusely evident. It is associated with pleasure, not prevention, but is meant to provide both. Such is the new image of the condom.

Yet this is just a variation on a theme. The history of condoms is a chronicle of appetite and fear, of desire and darkness. The aspect of condoms that offends some orthodox religious beliefs, after all, is that it treats the possibility of pregnancy as something as unwanted as a disease, something to be prevented for the sake of sexual gratification: the condom is an indulgence, an avoidance.

If the condom appears to be a sign of promiscuous satisfaction, though, it is also, in its essence, a compromise: at the moment of greatest potential pleasure, it interferes. It requires that the rush of desire be interrupted, its course modified, its sensation diminished. At the moment of being consumed by the present, a concern with the future intrudes. The condom is a declaration of sacrifice in the midst of indulgence. It is evidence of civilization and its discontents.

“Rubbers: The Life, History & Struggle of the Condom” is on view at the Museum of Sex, 233 Fifth Avenue, at 27th Street; (212) 689-6337,

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Medical Clowns

This report takes a look at the increasingly popluar trade of Medical Clowns in Israel.